TORONTO - Defenceman Tomas Kaberle offered to waive his infamous no-trade clause if the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed him to move to one of three preferred destinations, according to general manager Brian Burke, who ultimately had to settle on a series of lesser deals at the NHL's trade deadline.
Toronto executed five deals before Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET cut-off, though none as big as what might have developed from a trade involving Kaberle. The 32-year-old revealed a surprising change of heart in the hours before the deadline, admitting to reporters that he would consider a trade if "it's a good deal."
"There wasn't a deal to be made, and that was the end of it," Burke said after the deadline had passed. "We were truthful. We never got a list, but we did explore three avenues that the player's agent asked us to explore as recently as this morning."
He would not name the three teams.
Burke said he generally does not accept lists from players unless they include a minimum of 10 teams, but he made an exception for Kaberle, the last player left on the roster who actually has any playoff experience with the Leafs. Toronto has not made the playoffs in six years, and is suddenly stocked with players who are only in their first and second years with the team.
"Tomas Kaberle has a no-trade clause, and that was given to him in good faith," Burke said. "I think players can only get them if they have a certain level of seniority and a certain level of expertise. And I think organizations are bound by those things, whether it's the same GM who gave it to the player or not."
Kaberle has another season left on a contract that will pay him US$4.25 million next year. Burke pointed out that Kaberle's no-trade clause will disappear this summer in the event the Leafs miss the playoffs, which seems likely, given the team's hold on 15th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
He also said he was open to retaining Kaberle, and negotiating a new deal.
In the end, the Leafs made their biggest splash on the eve of the deadline, trading winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to Pittsburgh as part of a three-player deal. Toronto acquired 21-year-old forward Luca Caputi and defenceman Martin Skoula from the Penguins, but flipped Skoula to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round draft pick Wednesday.
Burke also shipped forward Lee Stempniak to the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday for defenceman Matt Jones and the Coyotes' fourth-round and seventh-round draft choices in 2010. Toronto also acquired defenceman Chris Peluso from Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft pick, and traded goaltender Joey MacDonald to Anaheim for the Ducks' seventh-round pick in 2011.
When the dust settled, the Leafs were an even younger team than they were before. The trade deadline fell a day after Toronto was blown out at home against the Carolina Hurricanes, a 5-1 loss that prompted Burke to issue a warning of sorts to those left behind in the trading chaos.
"There should be a lot of people worried about where they're going to play next year," Burke said. "The pride of putting on a uniform and playing in our league should be a motivating factor. I have no explanation for last night's performance. I was bewildered and furious last night - the building was flat, and we were flat."
Stempniak and Ponikarovsky were both set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Burke said Ponikarovsky was traded after the two sides could not come to terms on the length of a new contract.
"His agent said he wants a four-year contract extension, and I'm not interested in that," Burke said. "When I see some of the contracts that are being awarded, my guess is that this is the right way for Poni to go, too. He thinks he can get a four-year deal somewhere, and my guess is, he probably will - but I'm not giving him a four-year deal."